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How To Choose The Right Heating Systems For Your Poultry Brooders

Rowan Burgess |

The conditions in which chicks are kept directly impact their health. Air quality, food, water, ventilation, and heating will affect the rate at which your chicks grow and your poultry rearing success.

Having a reliable heat system is what keeps poultry healthy. It’s critical during the winter months, not only for maximum performance and productivity but also for the chicks' survival. Even in the warmer months, heating is needed at night to maintain a suitable environment for baby chicks. 

It can be hard to know which heating system is best for your operation with so much to consider. This article will cover the different types of heating systems and how to choose the right kind of system for your poultry brooders. 

Step 1: Consider Different Types of Poultry Heaters

There are three main types of systems that are commonly used in poultry brooders: 

  • Radiant brooders 
  • Forced hot-air space heating systems
  • Combination of radiant brooders and forced hot air systems

Whether you use radiant or space heat or a combination of both is not a clear-cut decision. Broiler chicks are raised successfully using all three systems, so the best method for you will depend on the specifics of your poultry farm.

Forced Hot-Air Space Heaters 

Forced hot-air space heaters work by heating the air to be distributed throughout the poultry shed. Convective heating units deliver heat via forced convective means and need powering by another source such as gas, diesel, water, or electricity. 

Whether to opt for a gas-powered, diesel-powered, or any other form of power for your heat source will depend on the scale of your chick rearing.

It’s important to note that space heaters use interior air and are not vented. This means that their by-products, such as moisture, carbon dioxide, and incomplete combustion products, are released directly into the building. Therefore, you need to increase your ventilation rate to avoid a dangerous build-up of by-products.

Benefits of Hot-Air Space Heaters

  • There is a wide range of options, making it easy to find a system that suits your needs. 
  • A highly popular choice for poultry farms and can quickly heat large spaces.

Disadvantages of Space Heating Systems

  • The main disadvantage of these units is that they are not very efficient at warming the space that needs warming: the floor. Lack of floor heat is a major problem, particularly in larger areas, with this kind of system.

Radiant Heat Brooders

Radiant brooders typically combust gas to heat radiant surfaces. Radiant surfaces are hot objects like angled reflectors, tubes, and disks, suspended above the floor in the poultry shed. This provides the chicks with the required heating at the floor level. 

Because radiant heat energy is infrared radiation, it turns into heat within an absorbent body. When air comes into contact with the hot surfaces heated, creating convective plumes of heat about the radiant unit. Reflectors are then used to direct the warmth back down to the shed floor, which is where warmth is most needed for the chicks. 

Radiant heat is a highly popular choice as it delivers heating energy straight to the birds and floor. It’s more efficient than forced-air heat and creates a warm thermal reservoir at the floor level. 

There are several different types of these units, and they each offer different warmth distribution patterns. These include: 

  • Pancake Brooders: Named pancake brooders due to their round shape, they project a circular heat pattern with even distribution onto the surface below. 
  • Straight Radiant Tubes: These systems work in the same way as pancake brooders but offer a heat profile that’s large and pear-shaped. The highest floor temperatures will be located right under the first tube, and lower warmth levels emitted at the furthest end. 
  • U-Tube Radiant Units: U-Tube models offer a better heat pattern than straight tubes because heat is more evenly distributed. The input is lower, so the spot directly under the burner is not as intense for the chicks. You can extend the heating footprint further by angling reflectors towards the sidewalls of the building. 

Benefits of Radiant Heating 

  • When radiant brooders are used, there is a varying temperature gradient, meaning that chicks can seek their own comfort zone within the shed.
  • It’s more efficient than forced-air heating, saving your poultry farm money spent on heating. 
  • The installation of brooders is usually straightforward and flexible, allowing for a range of floor layouts.
  • Radiant brooders are not a fire hazard, unlike some traditional lamps used for brooding. 

Disadvantages of Radiant Heating

  • Tube systems (both straight and u-tubes) have higher installation costs than the ‘pancake’ style units. 
  • Not suited to small-scale operations. 

Heat Lamps

Heat lamps are smaller alternatives for keeping chicks warm in brooders. Heat lamps are simply suspended above the brooder and are a good option for small scale poultry rearing. 

Lamps with infra-red bulbs are a better option than white bulbs, as they offer greater efficiency and don’t emit any light. Instead, they get extremely hot without lighting the area, avoiding interruption to the chicks’ sleep pattern. 

You can also use radiant lamps, which work in the same way as large radiant heating systems but on a smaller scale. These keep the environment perfect for young chicks, and many regulate warmth levels themselves. 

Benefits of Heat Lamps

  • This is a relatively inexpensive way to provide chicks with heat in a brooder.
  • The best option is a radiant heat lamp, which is very similar to large radiant heating systems but suitable for a small broiler. You avoid the risk of fire and the warmth is kept at a constant. 

Disadvantages of Heat Lamps

  • Heat lamps with white light bulbs are a fire hazard, particularly when over an area full of bedding, chicks, and shavings. 
  • While convenient and easy to use, these units are not suited to large scale farming operations, and there are more efficient options available for poultry chick farming.

Step 2: Select the Right System Specific to Your Chicks

Now that you know the range of options available and their key advantages and disadvantages, you should now consider what will be best suited to your chicks. 

Here, we cover many factors to take into consideration when choosing a heat source for your chick brooders.

Size of Operation

The right system for your chicks will depend largely on the size of the operation you’re running. For smaller projects, you won’t require large heating systems designed for broiler sheds. 

When using small brooders for a single batch of chicks each time, a radiant heat lamp or small infra-red lamp will be sufficient. Large scale farming requires larger warming systems like forced hot-air heaters. 

Budget 

Each option has different costs associated with it, both up-front and long-term. You need to consider: 
  • How much you can afford to pay for the cost of the units
  • Installation
  • Any additional power (e.g., diesel or gas) to run them

You should then weigh this up against the long-term benefits and money-saving associated with the chosen option.

Poultry Age and Purpose

The type of chicks or chickens you’re housing will also impact the heating system you should use.

Younger chicks need warmer temperatures in the first few weeks of life. This gives them the required core body heat and helps the chicks grow. The general health of the chicks or chickens will also affect the level of warmth that they need.

Location 

While some form of heating is needed for most chick-rearing operations regardless of location, the extent to which you will need powerful year-round heating will depend on the local climate. 

In warmer areas, you may only need heating for the winter months, whereas colder climates need a robust system to keep the perfect environment all year long.

Other Factors

You need to consider other climate conditions, such as drafts and cooler outside air, and how well these are controlled. 

If you have several methods in place to temper the cold outside air, this will reduce the amount of heating you need. Putting in place draft reduction measures will also help you save on annual fuel/electricity costs.

Step 3: Set Up Your Equipment 

Once you’ve chosen the right kind of system for your farm, it’s time to get it set up to ensure it works properly and safely for your poultry. 

After you’ve ensured you’ve got the correct power supplies, consider where you will place your heaters. These should be distributed evenly throughout the brooding area. 

To make sure you don’t get any hot spots, you need hot air to be mixed in with the room air. This can be accomplished by having fresh air inlets placed appropriately throughout your facility.

Don't forget to monitor your equipment's performance constantly, as even slight errors or incorrect variation in temperature can be detrimental to your efforts, particularly on large-scale operations.

Conclusion 

It’s important to make sure you choose the right kind of heating system for your poultry brooders. Without proper heating, you could severely impact performance and cost-effectiveness and even risk the lives of your chicks. 

When selecting a heat source, remember that the best measure for assessing temperature is the chicks themselves. If the chicks are huddled together under the heat source, it’s likely too cold throughout the area. If the chicks are widely dispersed around the edges, the heat source is too warm. 

Use this guide to help you decide which system is right for you. The most important factor in choosing a system is the size and scale of the area you’re keeping chicks in. You should then find the most appropriate heat source for that scale that falls within your budget.